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Fiction #79
(published Early, 2002)
The Spectators
by Fritz Swanson

A man sits on a bench with three friends. He stares out at you with a pair of binoculars.

They're looking. The spectators are looking. Are you a spectacle?

A little girl stands under a tree in her white sunday dress and hat. She has her hands on her hips and seems to be posing with a preternatural self-satisfaction.

Sometimes you preen and pose. Hands on hips, you twist and turn, the frills of your skirt swirling up around your knees. The looking does that to you. It's your Sunday dress they've asked for with their greedy eyes.

When they come upon you, announced, you can prepare for their gaze. It's long and groping, but it tickles too. The looking makes your dress whiter and your hat stiffer with starch. The looking is what puts your fists to your little hips.

It's what sticks your chin out.

Two lumbermen, looking very tired, stare out at you. A tree stands partially cut into between them, a two-man saw hanging limp in the open cut. The lumbermen look vaguely impatient.

But then they follow you to work. The spectators and their clipboards, always in your shadow, at your heel, ticking off box after box after box.

They wait for you to take a break, sip at a Stanley Thermos and sigh. When you misplace your sweaty hanky, they're the ones scurrying along behind testing the moisture for a thousand compounds.

In between glances and glares at you while you saw away, they pour over detailed reports: your cholesterol, sexual habits, erotic nightmares, shoe size, secret closets of desire.

They murmur as they inspect, an awe-full rush of whispering and nodding.

The sky is full of their eyes and their sampling glass rods and their glasses.

East Egg. West Egg.

A long line of men coming down out of the mountains stare out at you. The man at the end of the line in the picture is identified with the letters JMS.

Finally, to the farthest reaches of the Earth, and in your sleep even, they have followed you. The spectators keep their little pictures, with their notes and their scrawling conceptions and their identifying notations. They capture you in their minds eye, the third eye, the pineal gland which can see the light even through their scalp and thick hair.

The spectators are open to you even when you re-create.

At the Himalayan peaks they are there, existential, like Emerson.


And all you can do is feel them breathing and looking and breathing, with their video cassettes and Brownie Pin Hole cameras.

Kodak. Born of a love of "k"s.

Kin. Kind. Closer and closer. The lookers wish they were the looked. The watchers dream of being watched, and in your mind's eye, you can feel them pining for you. Covetting your altared status.

A series of proof shots of a young man, all headshots. 1. Blankfaced. 2. Serious, looking away. 3. Smiling and self-assured. 4. Brooding with his head tilted down. 5. Officious, with dashing hat.

After a certain point, you don't exactly forget their presence, but you divest yourself of the more annoying parts of awareness.

You reconcile yourself with the spectators and their Ex-Pect-Tations.

You find yourself, like a little girl again, trying on hats, making faces, turning your visage back and forth, feeling the different kinds of shadows and how they reveal aspects of you to the audience.

At every turn, you find that you have come to expect the watchers, the spectators, the voyeurs.

A couple lies down on the beech facing you. Your shadow strikes a line up the right side of the image.

After a certain point, ambivalence turns to comfort, turns to co-dependence, turns to love. Even when you are with your real love, your fleshy double, you still relish the caress of the spectator's gaze. You invite the shadow of observation closer in, until it becomes a part of your waking and dreaming life.

It is at this point that you start to lose a clear sense, a complete understanding, of where the boundaries are.

You start to talk to the spectators when no one is around. You start to invite them into your private moments, your empty stares, your silent contemplations. Your loneliness, in the midst of all the spectators stretches long and deep.

Finally you never go out at all. It's just you and the watchers who have moved into your bedroom, bathroom, keyholes and couch. You sit and they watch you sitting. You lie down, and they hover above in the clouded air, humming, clucking their tongues, scritching their little notes and snapping their candids for the shoebox.

After a while, you find that all you can do is watch them.

A woman in Victorian dress crawls through the leaves under a barbed wire fence. She is in a scrub-forest. There is a lake in the background. Her face is obscured by shadows. No skin shows. She is hiding, escaping, vanishing into the forest.

Watching the spectators is like a new life for you. You never knew it, but they don't ALL watch ALL of the time. They take shifts, passing in and out of your life as if on a huge carousel. The notes and the photos and the videotape all keep the story clear. Precedence is preserved as each new spectator passes before the transem of your stalled out life. They are on a converyor belt, passing from life to life, gathering nuggest of wisdom, truth, virtue, lascivious and wanton expression.

But you have started doing nothing but staring out at them. You watch them watching you, and at first, it startles them.

They're delighted, flattered, excited, and they preen under your gaze. Sunday dresses and soft white parisols. Curtsy, bow, tip the hat and smirk between the two of you.

It's a little game.

But finally, they just want you to get on with it. Your the living one, they the spectators. So, get on with it. Live you're goddamn life.

They take their notes more sporadically.

It's been a fucking year since anyone took your picture, or breathed a contented sigh into your ear as you slept.

After a point, they just wander by your window without even looking, and even your loneliness comes to feel... well... lonely.

The watchers have stopped watching, and no matter how hard you look or gaze or stare or flutter your eyes furtively, you cannot for the life of you catch them. Not a glimpse.

While walking in the woods, far behind your parent's house, you saw one in her long heavy gown scurrying away. She pulled herself along the earth, dirt and mud smearing her petticoats as she desperately clawed deeper in an attempt to sink away from your view. You made chase, hoping to see if she did something interesting, new, hopeful or terrible.

But she got away. The last spectator had slipped away into a deep and lonely tarn whose surface was black and shiny like the back of a beetle. When you gaze in after her you cannot see your own reflection exactly, but rather a de-bossed and inky hint of a face always out of the reach of the rods and cones of the eye.

It is at this moment, gazing deep into the shiny black, that you wish for nictitating membranes, like those possessed by certain serpents, so that even when you close your eyes, even when you sleep, you can still stare down into the well of the earth. You have found that looking is the only way to live.

It is such a powerful seduction that you cannot even recall what you should be looking for. All you know is that you are the last spectator, racing away from yourself.

The camelion may look directly forward with the right eye, and with the other at the same time, directly backwards.
1688 Boyle Final Causes Nat. Things ii. 61

[He] thought no eyes of sufficient credite in such a matter, but his owne; and therefore came him selfe to be actor, and spectator.
1586 Sidney Arcadia ii. x.

For ofte..Betre is to winke than to loke.
1390 Gower Conf. I. 54

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